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After an overwhelming vote in her favor (138-9 with 41 abstentions), Palestine has finally returned home. Sixty-five years after the United Nations General Assembly voted for the partition of Palestine into two states (one Jewish and one Arab), Palestine was granted a non-member observer State status in the United Nations, reaffirming thus “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.” This historic vote recognizes Palestine as a state and gives Palestine the right to join U.N. agencies, including the International Criminal Court, and allows Palestine to bring cases against Israel.
According to Palestinians, Israel has consistently violated international law by conducting “targeted assassinations”, home demolitions, expanding the building of settlements in Palestinian land and continuing its blockade of Gaza, in manifest violation of Articles 33, 55, and 56 of the IVth Geneva Convention. Collective punishment of civilians is strictly prohibited by international law, according to which the occupying power has the duty to ensure that food and medical supplies reach the population under siege (Israel controls Gaza’s borders, air space and sea-lanes).
The U.S. rejected the resolution granting observer status to Palestine, yet several prominent Israelis such as former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert favored it. In a letter to Bernard Avishai, Adjunct Professor of Business at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, made public by him, Olmert wrote:
“I believe that the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it. Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations, in order to agree on specific borders based on the 1967 lines, and resolve the other issues. It is time to give a hand, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians. Abu-Mazen –an alias for Abbas- and Salam Fayyad need our help. It’s time to give it.”
Much has been made of the antagonism between Fattah and Hamas. Abbas, however, as the Palestinian president and head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, went to the U.N. with Hamas’s blessing. This places an enormous pressure on Palestinians to stop their futile internal squabbles and constitute a united front.
To deny that the Palestinians are less interested in peace than the Israelis is to take short, petty view of the conflict. As Graham Peebles, director of Create Trust, a human rights and education organization working for the disadvantaged of the world has stated:
“The people of Palestine are desperate for peace and no doubt most decent Israelis share this desire. Is there the will amongst the politicians whom the innocent rely on, have Israel’s allies the courage to do what is right for the people; observe and implement International law, remove the diplomatic support and stop funding the occupation. Is there the will to go beyond platitudes and act, for as a wise man has explained, ‘nothing happens by itself, man must act and implement his will.’ Let that be the will of the people for peace, for the ending of death and suffering, for the chance to live together free from fear. To this end the parties must now work. Let an atmosphere of hope be created, for enough pain and suffering has been wrought on the Palestinian people, enough death and heartache, enough anger and insecurity sown into the Israeli people by hateful ambitious leaders.”
A New York Times editorial stated before the vote, “But even if the Palestinians win the vote, the price may be high. After membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was granted last year, Israel withheld millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority –which is in financial distress- and the United States halted financing to UNESCO and withheld millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.” Whereas this withhold of funding is likely to happen, it should be a matter of concern for the international community rather than a justification for continuing to deny Palestine’s right to exist.
Sixty-five years after the United Nations declared its creation, Palestine has achieved the world body’s recognition it long deserves. It has been a long and arduous way. Yet, finally, Palestine has returned home.
Dr. Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.